Column: Silence, solitude and summer memories
“In the wee wee hours, that’s when I think of you,” – Chuck Berry
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On stormy winter days like this, if I’m given time and space, my mind tends to wander away – sometimes to summertime.
I think about walking on the sand with the clear water rolling over my toes down at the waterline. The shores I see are quiet and deserted, with things like cars, towns and people only distant considerations.
The sounds are birds and the gently breaking waves, occasionally soft winds. I feel the sand bottom under my feet give way when I step. I find an old wooden chair along the beach and sit to think.
I sense the sun-soaked warmth of the cracked wood on the inside of my arms as I rest them on the chair rails. Wherever I’ve been walking, it took me a long time to get here.
I am weary, rundown.
Nothing this light sea breeze and sunshine can’t fix.
I might sit here until September.
These days, the world seems full of nothing but worry, like we’re off course, headed the wrong way, twirling out of control.
Any break, any respite, for me comes from finding my way to the woods and the waters. The sounds of their speech help me regain some sense of balance and reason.
Right now, while I’ve been having these thoughts, a group of four deer have slowly been making their way through the deep snow at the back of the yard. I’ve seen these animals before – two adults, two young deer. Each day they arrive at about the same time to check under the apple trees for fallen fruit.
After a quick inspection, one-by-one, they file out slowly through the worn trail they’ve made back into the woods. They are silent, graceful and strong – just in being, in living.
A dance of goldfinches, chickadees and nuthatches whirls around outside my window. They too are brave and hearty, such tiny creatures pitted against the cold stormy wilds. You wouldn’t think any of them could survive for more than a day, but they do.
A crow lands in the snow and immediately flops up and down, as though it’s the first time it ever experienced snow before. As quickly as it lands, it’s up in the air again flapping, and then gone.
I start thinking about the summer rain and how wonderful it is to experience the thunder, the lightning, the warm, muggy afternoons and the torrents of rain falling from the sky. Thunderstorms are strong and powerful – and yet they bring me a sublime peacefulness.
If I close my eyes, I can almost hear a clap of thunder rolling over the hills. Here comes the rain. I’m dry here watching from the window, with cool air blowing through the screen.
Friends and lovers can disappear like they walk into the rain one day and never come back. They can leave tremendous heart-shaped holes. I feel them sometimes when I’m walking or when I’m sitting here like this, just watching the woods from this wintry window.
When the darkness falls, I sit by the fire and listen to the snowstorm pounding outside. Snow swirls around the frosted windowpanes, the wind howls blindly through the trees.
Watching the flames is always enchanting, as is closing my eyes and listening as hard as I can to all the sounds the fire makes – the hissing that can sound like food cooking, the crackling and popping of maple and oak, and the gusting sounds of combustion.
I like to close my eyes and just concentrate on feeling the warmth soak into my body. It brings me a deeper awareness of the cold places and the shadows. I could sit by the fire content to do nothing else until spring – given the time and space.
My favorite time of the day is late at night or early in the morning, when everything is quiet. When the deer are still there, moving slowly like phantoms through the yard to the cedar trees along the driveway.
Those are the hours when no telephones are heard, the cars have stopped rolling down the road and even the winter wind has died down. Those are the hours when the new day is being born.
It’s feels like a sacred time – certainly a tender time of peacefulness.
Even my own voice inside quiets down and my flights of thought tend to stay closer to the ground, leaving me with the silence – outside and in – to listen to the sheer nothingness.
I can see how this kind of almost profound silence takes a certain temperament.
It’s not for everyone.
I understand that.
Some folks don’t like silence at all.
I have a feeling that even the softly falling snow has a sense of silence.
Right now, the night is so quiet the singing of a single spring sparrow would shatter the atmosphere into a million pieces. A cheery robin would be hushed by the trees and everything else.
It’s often been suggested that everyone should watch at least one sunrise every year. I think we might all benefit from trying to find the time and the space for some true and deep quiet for listening to our hearts, souls and minds.
I think there is so much there to learn in those silent moments of reflection and meditation, in those wee hours when life itself seems to be doing the same thing – pausing to take a deep breath before the start of another day.
In a wee little room, I sit alone and think of you.
I sit here watching until the fire burns low, until the bright orange embers are down to just a few. I’ve pulled my blanket up around my shoulders, with the darkness now enveloping me.
My eyes get sleepy and my brain gets foggy. Like a child I fight to stay awake not wanting to miss one single thing, not one bit of this beautiful dark night.
Sometime, over the next few minutes, I tumble over the transom into the world of sleep. Rolling down through the unseen, past the unknown to the undefined – the blurry and distorted kingdom of dreams.
Morning will find me here in this comfortable seat, with my blanket still up over me. I’m sore from having slept here, I feel like I’ve been drunk. I glance at the clock and then turn toward the window.
The pale lavender shades of the sky herald the arrival of dawn. There are plenty of fresh deer tracks in the snow, a crow is cawing loudly. I wonder what today will bring.
I walk up the stairs, my blanket trailing behind.
More snow in the forecast, more wind and cold.
Somehow, sad thoughts have already arrived and set up camp all around the doorstep of my brain. Winter’s crush is on.
Ice thickens, snow piles high. The crescent moon and the morning star are hiding behind another bank of cold, threatening clouds.
Someplace, far away, grass is growing green and summer birds float and glide over the passage of a warm afternoon. An old man is rocking quietly in a front porch wooden chair, his cares resting somewhere a million miles away.
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John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.